An Interview with April 2011 Featured Member, Ruth Zaryski-Jackson
NAMW: What are you writing?
Ruth: I am writing a memoir about the first two decades of my life, interwoven with parts of my immigrant parents’ family histories. I also write poetry and am sketching out characters for a novel.
NAMW: What are your interests?
Ruth: Besides writing and blogging my interests are: genealogy, helping people with genealogical research, learning to speak Ukrainian, and my family of four children and seven grandchildren. I am the family archivist and my present passion is picking up dropped threads in the family histories. I love to research some forgotten relative who died young or invented something she was never given credit for. I’m stirring up and rewriting history as I discover new facts.
NAMW: What is your story about? Tell us what you want to write about, or what you are working on.
Ruth: My story is a coming of age memoir of a precocious daughter of Ukrainian immigrants uprooted at the age of 9 from her life in a 1940s downtown Toronto rooming house to follow her mother’s dream to the suburbs.
Adrift from colorful family-like friends and familiar landscapes, she lacks the skills to understand her feelings and separate her dreams from her mother’s. She changes from an exuberant personality to a shy and sullen girl, struggling alone with loss, longing, conflicting values and a family secret.
Through a gradual understanding of herself and her parents’ history, she comes to an awakening of herself and finds her place in the world.
NAMW: If you could imagine the title of your story—what would it be?
Ruth: The working title of my book is: Missing Sadie, Missing Myself: Memories of a Childhood. Sadie Carlton lived in our rooming house for 7 years. She was the grandmother I never knew. Sadie represents the loving lap of childhood and innocence. When we moved, part of me was lost.
NAMW: What helps you to get your writing done—for instance—a writing schedule, taking a class, reading?
Ruth: The most important support for me is my writing group, Life Writers Ink. Two of us recently started a buddy system to produce a first draft. We make ourselves accountable for writing roughly 10 pages a week. We check in, acknowledge each other and repeat. No critiquing at this stage. Other things that help are: setting boundaries and priorities, reading constantly, setting goals at night for the following writing day, delegating all that interferes with writing and meditating to get the creative juices flowing.
All these rules fell by the wayside when my stepdaughter Milo died suddenly in May 2010. Instead of working on my memoir, I wrote poetry, journaled and blogged for months until the shock and grief subsided. Switching genres is a good way to keep writing.
NAMW: What are your five favorite books—okay, you can make it a little longer if you need to.
Ruth: Recently I’ve enjoyed reading What Disturbs Our Blood by James FitzGerald for his incredible weaving of personal and family history into what reads like a thriller. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri and Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout showed me how to write linked stories. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon is a humorous, eye-popping, laugh out loud read. Small Beneath the Sky (a prairie memoir) by Lorna Crozier is written in spare and poetic prose. I learned how to write from multiple points of view from Shandi Mitchell’s novel Under This Unbroken Sky, her grandfather’s heartbreaking story.
NAMW: Is there anyone who does not want you to write your memoir? Why not?
Ruth: I did have trouble at first with my inner critic and my inner paranoiac. They lurked until I gave myself permission to write and stopped fearing someone might read it.
I can’t think of anyone who objects to my writing my memoir. My husband is supportive. I’m not writing about that part of my life. My mother, a healthy 97, is supportive but nearly blind, so she’ll never read it. A few relatives may object to speaking openly about my grandfather’s manic-depression. Honesty and tact will guide me as I write. Those who disagree with my story are free to write their own memoir.
NAMW: Talk about who the audience is for your memoir.
Ruth: I began writing my memoir for my children and my siblings whose childhood in the suburbs differed from mine. But now I see my audience as anyone who has moved, suffered loss, sensed family secrets, and experienced conflict.
NAMW: What is the most significant turning point in your life?
Ruth: The significant turning point is moving when I was 9 from the city to the suburbs in 1950. For me it was like moving to another planet. I felt lost when my familiar urban touchstones disappeared.
NAMW: Do you have a blog or other online location where you frequently post your writing? If so, what is the URL/web address/location?
Ruth: My blog is Memoir Writer’s World: http://www.memoirwritersworld.blogspot.com
“Are you a writer?” someone asked Ruth at a luncheon in 2006. “No,” she said, “but I should be”. This incident sparked an epiphany and search for a memoir-writing course. At Ryerson University she found Allyson Latta. Several courses later, she met in person with three on-line writers and formed a writers’ support group, Life Writers Ink. This group has nurtured, encouraged, critiqued and elevated Ruth to her second career as a writer.
Born in Toronto, Ruth studied Anthropology and Counseling Psychology at university. After a career of research, teaching, heritage planning, and children, Ruth began writing memoir and poetry. In 2008 her postcard story was published in Wisdom of Old Souls. In 2010 her poems Knowing You and Wash Day appeared in Grandmothers’ Necklace. Her personal essay The Power of a Family Secret was published in 2010 on Allyson Latta’s website.
Ruth is addicted to genealogy. She loves excavating layers of immigrant family history searching for treasures to illuminate her stories and link the generations. She is learning to speak Ukrainian and plans to take a research trip to her ancestors’ homeland. She is happiest wrapped in a blanket writing in the quiet of her drafty basement hideaway.
Ruth lives with her husband in rural Ontario, close to Toronto theatres, but far from their four children and seven grandchildren.
Find Ruth Online:
My blog Memoir Writer’s World: http://www.memoirwritersworld.blogspot.com
Facebook group I like: Writer’s Community of Durham
(WCDR website: http://www.wcdr.org )
Wisdom of Old Souls: http://www.hiddenbrookpress.com/Book-WisdomOf.html
Grandmothers’ Necklace: http://essencebookstore.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1381
My short book review of Under This Unbroken Sky on the Reading as Writers Blog for WCDR: http://readingaswriters.ca/readingaswriters/?p=1333
My personal essay The Power of a Family Secret on Allyson Latta’s website:
Congratulations,Ruth, on your well-deserved honor of being named NAMW Member of the Month! You have a fascinating story to tell about your immigrant family and I thoroughly enjoy following your story through your blog. You are bringing your family history alive in a way that connects us all. Keep up your great work. My best wishes for your continued success.
Thank you so much for your message, Kathy. I appreciate your support as we travel this road to memoir. Your journey is admirable too and I enjoy following your posts on ‘Write On’.
Well, done, Ruth. A very memorable honour to receive. I really enjoyed your interview and I can’t wait to read the book when it’s finished. I feel as if I already know Sadie a little since she graces the cover of Wisdom of Old Souls. I’m sure it’s going to be a poignant book. I loved your comment about ” Anyone who disagrees with my memoir should write their own” or words to that effect. I had to say that a few times to family members after Lifting the Veil came out!
Thanks so much for your comment and for showing the way with your memoir ‘Lifting the Veil’. Yes Sadie is on the cover of the grandmother’s anthology ‘Wisdom of Old Souls’ along with 4 year old me with my head in a book. Not much has changed!
It comes as no surprise to me that you are recognized as NAMW Member of the Month. Your approach to memoir-writing has been an inspiration to me, not only from the information I learn from your blog postings, but as a member of WCDR and Life Writers Ink. You are a studious and thoughtful role model for others who struggle to make sense of the times that shaped us.
Thanks for your comments and for your support over the past 2 years as part of Life Writers Ink and even before that during Allyson’s online memoir writing courses. You are always so positive but helpful in your responses. I appreciate the way we help each other and it’s been rewarding to see you grow and suceed in publishing your writing.
What an honour for you to be chosen NAMW’s member of the month. Congratulations! I enjoyed your interview, and in particular the way you homed in on your story’s arc and themes, and described these so compellingly. I know how painful it was for you to lose your stepdaughter, and it’s an insightful observation (and good advice to others) that switching forms can keep one writing through a difficult time. Over the past five years you’ve taken a remarkably determined approach to honing your craft and it shows in your blog posts and in all your writing-related endeavours. I know Life Writers Ink has been instrumental in nurturing your creativity — you’re fortunate to have found a small but supportive group of writers of like mind and spirit. And they’re lucky to have found you.
Thank you for your comments and for all you’ve done to nurture me and our small group of fledgling memoirists. You possess a skill of cutting to the heart of what we are trying to say, without telling us how to express it. We are lucky to have stumbled upon you and your talent in our journey to writing a memoir.